Shetland Council By-Elections, 07/11/19

Shetland is enjoying quite a spell in the political spotlight at the moment. Following the by-election for the Scottish Parliament seat we have two council by-elections coming up as well. The Lerwick South one was expected as a logical outcome of councillor Beatrice Wishart being elected as MSP. Shetland Central was a bit more of a surprise as councillor Mark Burgess, first elected in 2012, also announced his resignation. Both by-elections will be held on the 7th of November, giving Ballot Box Scotland its first “two in one” situation to deal with.

You probably don’t need as much of a background to Shetland as a whole this time round, so this part will be brief. These wards form part of the Shetland constituency at Holyrood, whilst at Westminster they are part of Orkney and Shetland. Both of these constituencies have been held by the Lib Dems since time immemorial. There are 7 wards overall in the council.

Shetland Islands Council itself is overwhelmingly dominated by Independent councillors, though it’s not uncommon for individual councillors to hold party memberships. The only openly party political candidate elected in 2017 was an SNP councillor for the Shetland South ward, which was uncontested. There have been no changes to Shetland wards since STV was introduced in 2007, though consultation is underway on proposals for new boundaries as a result of the Islands Act.

Taking a look first at Lerwick South, as you’d expect from the name the ward covers the southern portion of the Shetland capital, Lerwick. It also incorporates a stretch to the southwest of Lerwick, including Gulberwick. It normally elects 4 councillors, of which Wishart was elected second – though still on first preferences alone – in 2017. For this by-election the candidates are;

  • Stephen Flaws (Ind)
  • Caroline Henderson (Ind)
  • Gary Robinson (Ind)
  • Frances Valente (Ind)
  • Arwed Wenger (Ind)

It’s a completely independent slate for this ward, with two notable returning candidates. Frances Valente wasn’t even 3 full votes short of winning a seat in this ward in 2017 – she was an agonising 2.77 – so may be hoping to start this by-election from a very strong place. Gary Robinson meanwhile is a former councillor for Shetland West, and indeed was the Council Leader before losing his seat in 2017.

We don’t have to go far to visit the other ward, Shetland Central, as it’s just across the boundary line. The major component of this ward is Scalloway, Shetland’s second largest town, and its attendant islands to the south – including Trondra, West Burra and East Burra. It also covers a stretch of more rural land around and to the north of the Tingwall area. Mirroring its neighbour, Burgess was elected on first preferences as the second councillor for the ward, which normally elects 3 councillors. As an interesting aside, although every candidate was on the ballot as an independent here per the Shetland norm, it wasn’t entirely non-partisan. Brian Nugent, who came last, was very open that he was an SNP member and claimed to have simply registered too late to be able to use the party logo and name on the paper. In the running this time are;

  • Johan Adamson (Ind)
  • Julie Buchan (Ind)
  • Stewart Douglas (SNP)
  • Gordon Laverie (Ind)
  • Moraig Lyall (Ind)

This time around the SNP have a full-fledged candidate here with Stewart Douglas, and whilst she is following the Shetland norm here of standing as an Independent, you may remember Johan Adamson as Labour’s candidate from the Holyrood by-election. Julie Buchan is another 2017 returner, as she came fourth in this ward at the last election.

Unless there’s an upset to Shetland’s independent streak in the latter ward, these elections will return two independents to Shetland Islands Council – which two those will be I couldn’t say!